Friday, 17 October 2014

31 Days of Horror: The Tell-Tale Heart (1941)

The Tell-Tale Heart (1941)
Director: Jules Dassin
Starring: Joseph Schildkraut, Roman Bohnen, and Oscar O'Shea
Running Time: 20 min

  There are some great things about this film that interest me.  It is an adaptation of one favourite stories by Edgar Allan Poe and this is the first film, although it is a short, by director Jules Dassin, who has created some of the finest film noir films ever.  I am looking forward to seeing this collaboration, as Dassin's first crime film seems to be from the pages of a classic.

  A young man is fed up with the years of verbal and physical abuse from his boss.  The boss arrives home that night and the young man is waiting for him in the dark.  Unfortunately, the boss laughs it off and slaps the young man for his insolence.  He then tells the young man that he is too much of a pussy to do anything about it and that the young man will never be free until he is dead. The young man backs off at this encounter but later that night the young man returns and enters his boss's room with murderous intent.  There are screams and the boss is presumably murdered.
  The next day, with his boss buried in the floorboards, the young man cannot stop hearing the sound of his boss's beating heart everywhere.  The sound pounds inside his mind and he cannot seem to escape it.  Then, there is a knock on the door and the police have arrived to the home because the neighbours heard a scream the night before.  They come in and ask some simple questions like, "Where is your boss", which the young man lies and tells them that he went to town.  But the police are confused because the boss was suppose to go to the auction.  Caught in the lie, the young man tries to recover but the hideous sound of the beating heart is not allowing him to think straight.  Can the young man evade the police or will this beating heart be the end of this young man?

  Although this is a short, director Jules Dassin (The Naked City, Rififi) takes what he's learned over the years from apprenticing under directors Garson Kanin and Alfred Hitchcock and puts it to good use.  This is a very tight adaptation of the the Poe tale and Dassin's use of the camera and his lighting techniques gives this the dark and ominous feel that it needs.
  Veteran actor Joseph Schildkraut (The Life of Emile Zola, The Diary of Anne Frank), who plays the young man is exceptional in this.  You can see and feel his anguish and paranoia whenever the camera is on him.  His performance makes you feel torn because even though he has murdered his boss, you wanted him to escape the abusive life that he was living.  His descent into madness is quite enjoyable to watch on screen.
  Also, like in most adaptation of this piece, sound is an essential character and Dassin uses it brilliantly.  The thumping of the heart is so ominous and menacing that it puts you on the edge of your seat.   

  This is a very impressive short by a first time director and there is a hint of the potential of what is to come from Dassin later.  The only thing that I would have like to see, because I'm a ghoul, is bit of the corpse in the floor.  If he had just shown a quick shot of the old man underneath the floorboards or even had the police detective pull up an arm up to check a pulse, then it would have made it perfect. 

  Still, this is a great short film and can be enjoyed by anyone who loves Poe, classic films or horror.  Again, Schildkraut's performance is unmatched in any other version of this tale that I've seen and although you don't see any blood or gore, this is creepy story that is at the heart of horror. 

1 comment:

  1. I was surprised that a film version of this Poe classic could be so chilling...but it was